Northern Community Gardens - Article

Jay Street community garden in Newlands is the first in Wellington's northern suburbs.

Community gardeners at Jay Street.

Community gardeners at Jay Street

First community garden for Wellington's northern suburbs

Produced as part of Branch Out newsletter - Autumn 2012

At the end of Jay Street, up a hill behind Newlands College, is a plot of land that's getting a new lease on life.

The 1500m² site was formerly a children's playground - but its secluded location wasn't the best in terms of safety.

The Council had looked at putting the site on its for-sale list - but then was approached by Charmaine Meyers and Peter Gilberd with a request to establish a community garden and nursery.

Now the trees have been cut back, grass mown and raised beds full of vegetables stand in the place of slides and swings. The Jay Street Community Garden is the first and only community garden in Wellington's Northern Suburbs.

It has only a handful of raised beds at the moment but there are grand plans for this space - 30 raised beds, as well as fruit trees, a composting area, nursery, shade house and an educational area.

At least twice a week you'll find Northern Community Gardens' Charmaine Meyers, Peter Gilberd, and a growing group of community gardeners beavering away here.

Charmaine has been involved with running Innermost Gardens, a community gardening group with sites in both Mount Victoria and Newtown and Peter is associated with three local restoration planting groups.

Once the garden is fully up and running it's going to be a hive of activity says Charmaine. "We're looking at having school groups and running workshops for local people to come and learn about growing veges."

The Jay Street community garden has had a lot of support from other community groups, including the Glenside Streamcare group, who are winding back their planting project and have donated a shade house, and Ngā Hau e Whā o Paparārangi, who are making a substantial contribution to the nursery.

"The Papakāinga has raised money to engage in a 20 year planting programme, which is designed to use plants for cultural purposes - starting off with weaving, moving onto medicine and food. We'll be growing the plants they will then plant out," says Peter.

You could say that community gardens are somewhat in vogue at the moment.

There are 31 community gardens and orchards in the city. Eight of these have leases or agreements with the Council, another 14 gardens are part of the Council's city housing estate, with a further nine community gardens situated on private land. Apart from Jay Street, a couple of the more recently established have been the Island Bay and Berhampore community orchard and 'pop-up gardens' in Civic Square and Kilbirnie, which were an experiment by Massey University to gauge people's reactions to urban gardens.

"I think there is a wish to get back to Mother Nature a little bit," says Peter.

Charmaine, who knew nothing about growing vegetables until she joined Innermost Gardens, in Mount Victoria, a few years ago, says for her it's the social aspect of community gardening that she likes.

"I've got friends I've met now through community gardening. At the first working bee we had here a woman asked a child 'where do you live?' and they found out they lived in the same street. They didn't know that and they may of never met hadn't it been for the garden. So it's people forming connections".

Peter says community gardens are a great way to teach people how to go about growing your own food, rather than just going and buying it from a supermarket.

"I think there's a resilience component to this, people may have to be more self-sufficient in the future. It's about relearning the skills that our grandparents had.

And there's a thrill in growing something from seed and watching it grow up and then putting it in the ground and watching it grow. So when people do that they get into looking after and caring for their own environment."

Both Charmaine and Peter say Council support has been critical - providing advice, material and land.

"These groups wouldn't survive without Council support,"says Peter.

"And also the more practical support you get from the Council Park Rangers. When we have school groups in they'll be there helping manage the students, helping to dig holes, bringing plants onto the site and generally backing you up and checking everything is ok."

Peter and Charmaine think it'll be two to three years before the gardens, nursery and everything else will be fully up and running. But they say there'll be plenty happening over the coming year.

"Northern community gardens will be running regular gardening workshops and working bees so if any locals would like to come and get involved, please contact us at info@ncg.org.nz".